From left to right: Michael Coxon (West Torrens) Mayor Anne Ferguson (Mt Barker), EU Ambassador Michael Pulch, Lord Mayor Anna Reynolds (Hobart), Cr Amanda Stone (Yarra)

A group of motivated Mayors from across Australia descended on Canberra this week, delivering a strong message to the big end of politics about the power of local government 

Spurred by federal inaction on climate change, the group delivered a report showing that emission reductions plans in place across 60 of Australia’s 527 local governments, hold the potential to achieve 96 per cent of the current national target by 2030.

Planned large scale emission reduction schemes across the 60 LGAs were calculated to eliminate 88 million tonnes of CO2e, almost eclipsing the federal government’s goal of 92 million tonnes by the end of the decade. 

City of Hobart Lord Mayor, Anna Reynolds told The Fifth Estate while there was significant ambition in local governments across Australia to make major emissions reductions, their plans could be delivered faster if there was a national program in place.

“We are calling on the Prime Minister to work with them to design a national cities emission reduction program, like many other nations have,” Reynolds said. 

“It’s our view that the work of cities can be harnessed to allow Australia to set a much stronger zero emissions target at the national level.”

Australia’s “secret weapon” for achieving net zero emissions well before 2050

The report was prepared by Victorian-based consultancy firm Ironbark Sustainability for the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy (GCoM), of which Reynolds is a board member, with additional funding provided by the European Climate Foundation.

Citing existing council initiatives such as solar farms in the Sunshine Coast and Newcastle NSW, the Victorian Energy Collaboration, WA’s Renewables Powerhouse and Hobart’s Cutting Waste Emissions, the report concluded if all of the targets set by Australian local governments were met, 88 million tonnes of CO2e emissions would be reduced.

According to the 2021 Local Government Climate Survey, 75 per cent of Australian councils had already or were planning to set ambitious corporate climate action targets. 

With cities accounting for roughly 75 per cent of human-induced carbon emissions, the 2015 Paris Agreement explicitly recognized the crucial role of local and subnational governments.

“It is local governments who have an obvious jurisdictional role to play in managing the urban agenda,” the report stated. 

“Local governments are well-networked organisations with more political flexibility than national governments, and thanks to their local proximity, they can directly engage with, and respond to, local community needs.”

The top five “emissions busting” projects for Australian Councils were identified as:

  • Facilitating the planning and construction of electric vehicle charging infrastructure by working with developers, owners of charging infrastructure and distribution businesses to remove the barrier of network availability.
  • Deliver and facilitate Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) across council and broader municipality, borrowing from models already successfully completed in most Australian states.
  • Work with state government to ensure strict sustainability criteria is factored into planning processes accelerated by working regionally and through alliances or local government associations
  • Work with waste management stakeholders to ensure organic waste diversion at municipal level
  • Facilitate mode shift from private vehicles to alternative transport modes through installation of bike paths or public transit, incorporating education campaigns targeting key barriers to up take

According to Reynolds, the countries doing well on emissions reductions were those that acknowledged local government as a willing and useful partner.

“When Joe Biden was elected and decided he wanted to commit America to a stronger target, one of the first things he did was convene a meeting of city leaders that had already been working on climate emissions reduction programs for many years,” Reynolds said.

“He basically said to them ‘you’re already doing the work, one of the ways I’m going to do increase our ambition nationally is just to back you in and help you deliver the work you’re already doing and to help you deliver it faster’.”

Reynolds said that local government only received around three per cent of community tax revenue, which was disproportionate to their level of infrastructure responsibility.

“There is a lot of emissions reduction money out there being used by the federal government but for quite a few years now it’s been much more foccused on big point source emitters,” she said.

“That’s got its place but I think that type of work has run its course and I don’t think there’s many more really good new savings to be had there that are as affordable or as good value in terms of emissions reductions as you’d get working with local councils.”

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  1. Can we please first have Local Government respect Planning and Development Regulations along with Building construction standards and Bushfire construction standards before they meddle in other areas that are really not their domain. This would entail actually communicating with their community not just purporting to do so. Local Government has become an expensive propaganda machine and seems to facilitate dodgy deals which may be what is referred to as having “more political flexibility”. I see the Mayor of one council in South Australia, who is well aware that the Mount Barker Council staff have applied falsified Engineering documentation and in doing so have also removed the Bushfire construction standards in a home construction in a High Risk Bushfire zone of the Council region and with the home owner contacting the mayor for help but with no response.This is a case of Local Government placing lives in the community at risk and causing immense financial loss to members of the community. [This is a lightly edited version of the comment to remove personal reference]